Nov 7, 2009
Cinematters: The 'best' of the decade
It’s perhaps silly to complain about lists, but it has come round, shockingly quickly, to both that time of year and that time of the decade when critics are looking back at what the 21st century has given us so far, a summation of 10 years of cinema. I’ll be doing it myself at the beginning of 2010. The first of these lists that I’ve seen was published today in The Times, you can see the full list here. I was immediately depressed on turning to the article; yet another entirely predictable list, a calculated mix of the mainstream (lots of Pixar, the two Bourne sequels, Gladiator) and populist, unthreatening, unchallenging, semi-mainstream arthouse fare Let the Right One In, City of God, The Orphanage).
It’s not that the list is full of bad movies (though it’s got some fucking shocking choices such as Paul Haggis’ Crash and Miranda July’s staggeringly irritating Me, You and Everyone We Know), and even if it were entirely populated with terrible a movie, that’s not the point. The point is that, especially in a retrospective like this, any critic worth their salt will be looking beyond the obvious, looking to share great movies that people are unlikely to have seen. I’ve seen 85 of the 101 films on the list, and of the other 16 not a single one is new to me. This is a list that looks like it was made by people sitting around and thinking about which films people will recollect rather than which were actually the best.
Of course all lists are subjective, and this one is, like all the rest that will come out, wrong by definition because I didn’t write it. But really, does ANYONE think that Wedding Crashers deserves to be considered one of the hundred best films of the last ten years, especially on a list that can’t find space for Oldboy? What really galls is the middle-class bent of the list; it’s a list designed to cater to Times readers rather than illuminate great movies (hence the almost total absence of horror films, bar LTROI, The Orphanage and, arguably, Pan’s Labyrinth). I’d love to hear someone defend this list, tell me, for example, why Al Gore’s powerpoint presentation is a better movie (remember, this isn’t about importance, or influence or relevance) than the devastating Her Name is Sabine, or how they arrived at the conclusion that in the last decade South-Korea’s new wave produced just one film worthy of inclusion here, or who Stephen Gaghan blew to get the painfully boring Syriana in at number 40, or… I could go on and on.
Here’s the thing, if you honestly believe that Wedding Crashers and Knocked Up and an overgrown TV movie like The Queen are even in the conversation when it comes to the best movies of the last ten years, you shouldn’t be writing as a film critic because, really, you aren’t seeing enough films.